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Thai protesters mull PM's election offer

Thailand's anti-government protesters said today they were seriously considering the premier's offer to hold elections in mid-November, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the crippling standoff.

world Updated: May 04, 2010 13:47 IST

Thailand's anti-government protesters said on Tuesday they were seriously considering the premier's offer to hold elections in mid-November, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the crippling standoff.

Leaders of the mostly poor or working-class Reds, whose rallies in Bangkok are in their eighth week, gave a cautious
welcome to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's proposal but said they needed more time to discuss it.

"Our stance on Abhisit's reconciliation roadmap will be made based on the interests of the people," Jaran Ditha-apichai, a senior Red Shirt, said from a rally stage in the city's commercial heart.

"For the sake of the struggle for democracy, we will discuss and listen to our people who are on the frontline."

The movement said that it wanted to be sure the proposed roadmap had the full backing of ruling party lawmakers and their coalition partners in the government before deciding whether or not to accept it.

"We will discuss among more than 20 leaders whether or not to accept it, but initially I agree with one of the proposals -- to end the deadlock in a non-violent way," said another Red Shirt leader, Nattawut Saikuar.

A series of bloody clashes between the demonstrators and security forces in Bangkok have left 27 people dead and nearly 1,000 people injured in the country's worst civil unrest in almost two decades.

The authorities are ready to discuss an amnesty for protest leaders, according to a government source.

"The government wants to create a good climate and end the protests. Details will be discussed later. However, one of the topics that will discussed is related to an amnesty," the source told AFP, asking not to be named.

Arrest warrants have been issued for many top Red Shirts, who have been defying a ban on rallies under a state of emergency in the city.

Many of the protesters -- who have been campaigning for immediate elections -- seek the return of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption.

An international law firm, Amsterdam & Peroff, said Tuesday that it had been hired by Thaksin "to assist in the current
contentious struggle for the restoration of democracy and rule of law" in Thailand.

Abhisit said Monday his proposal to hold elections on November 14 was subject to all parties agreeing to his reconciliation roadmap.

The British-born, Oxford-educated head of the establishment Democrat Party does not have to go to the polls until the end of next year.

Some observers say that when he does face the people, his failure to connect with the rural masses means he faces a tough battle against the pro-Thaksin forces that have won every election for a decade.

Abhisit's party came to power via a parliamentary vote in 2008 and for Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thailand expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, it will be "very difficult" for him to win an election.

"Because he represents the Bangkok elite, it's hard to win the hearts and minds of the people in the north and northeast," the analyst said. "Meanwhile Thaksin remains hugely popular in those regions."

Abhisit last month rejected a compromise offer by the Reds to disperse if elections were held within three months. In March he had offered to hold elections by the end of the year but protest leaders rejected that proposal.

The Red Shirts have fortified their sprawling protest site in the city's main shopping district with barricades made from piled-up truck tyres, razor wire and bamboo stakes.

In recent days, however, a weary air has descended on the rally area, which is strewn with garbage.

Many of the protesters have been sleeping on the streets for weeks with little or no shelter and fatigue appears to be setting in, along with the start of the rainy season, which brought heavy downpours to the capital on Tuesday.